Political conscious and cunningly witty, Kunle Idowu, the actor and comedian, has created an alter ego in Frank Donga – a humorous character he uses as a medium to convey harsh socio-political realities. In this interview with TheCable Lifestyle, Donga speaks of his journey to stardom, political concerns, and his views on the entertainment industry — particularly the Nollywood and government intervention.
TCL: How did you feel about the AMVCA and how it has put you in the limelight?
Frank Donga: This is my second nomination at the AMVCA. It is a beautiful feeling to put out the body of work consistently and also be featured in movies on some of the big screens. Thank God I was nominated for such a prestigious award like this. It’s a beautiful feeling. I am grateful for every opportunity that has come my way.
Without a doubt, the AMVCA also projects your craft and your brand beyond where it is. It projects your works across Africa.
TCL: You started out as a skit-maker and then you ventured into acting as a filmmaker. What was your motivation?
Frank Donga: I have a Master’s degree in Animal Genetics from the University of Ibadan my first degree was in Animal Production. I am a very passionate farmer at heart. I am a scientist in mind. I love research. I love to answer the question of why. I love nature, I love agriculture – food.
I have always been the funny but quiet guy, in the family, in school, and at work. You know, I will do impressions of my lecturer in class at the university and do impressions of my classmates when the lecturer is not around.
After my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), I got my first job as a journalist working at Network News24 and it was a beautiful experience. Ever since then, it’s been media. As a documentary filmmaker, I was an assignment editor as a broadcast journalist.
As a journalist, I dug deeper and I found out that there are a myriad of reasons why they couldn’t impress their would-be employers. I felt like doing something about it. And one thing I narrowed the whole problem down to was, apart from the poor academic background, a lot of people had after graduation – which was self-preparation, self-worth, and self-confidence.
So, I felt let’s do something about it. That was how the bulk of the interview series came to be. Since then, I have not looked back on it. It was a wonderful opportunity. I did the first few skits with my friends back then at Ndani TV and it went viral and I started getting calls from movie producers to join on movie sets. And things went from a zero to a hundred real quick.
TCL: So, how would you compare skit-making when you started it to what it is today?
Frank Donga: Well, the time has changed. It’s not too long ago, about a decade ago now when I would say we started. Most people who started skits were out of the country doing skits on Instagram, social commentary or reflecting on society at large.
In the same way, we have different reasons for doing music, some people want to reflect on the political struggles of the country. We have the likes of the Felas of this world, Lucky Dube, who reflected heavily on society and they do conscious music.
For me, that was my theme and that was what I stuck to. Every now and then, I do just basic humour without really addressing a particular thing. Even if you look deep, you might still find a theme or two, either carelessness or personal accountability, share ignorance or not being informed enough. Calling people to be accountable for the knowledge they acquire and they pass.
Would I say things have changed? Maybe the volume of skits. We call them skit-makers, but I just refer to them as sketch comedians. There are a lot more people in that space right now with different themes. Sometimes people do multiple films and of course, like every creative person, your personal conviction, and your value system slip through in the kind of content that you create. And that’s basically whatever differences we want to observe and I think.
TCL: Are there issues you have not been able to convey with your craft?
Frank Donga: I won’t say there are issues that I have not been able to address, there might be issues I chose not to focus on for certain reasons. Maybe because of timing.
Again, when you are creating content, it’s like food. Sometimes you know when to increase the heat, the time to lower the heat and let it simmer. There are some kinds of meals you don’t serve certain consumers.
As a creative person, you have inspiration from God, as for me, sometimes you look at society and you want to send a message. You want to reflect on something, change the narrative, or have a conversation about something.
When you prepare the meal using your creativity, taking the format, and medium, you have to look at the people you are dishing it out to and if the audience is not the right one you adjust appropriately – the messaging or the format.
Having said that, it’s not every topic that I jump at even with my content. I pick topics that I am most passionate about. Topics that are valuable, trending, and that fall within my area of interest at that period.
TCL: We now have online streaming platforms saturating the film industry, what does this mean for Nigeria?
Frank Donga: Depends on if you looking at a glass being full or half empty. I think everything is a tool, depending on how you use it. These streaming platforms are also tools. It now depends on what we want to do with it. Tools create opportunities for you to do what you wanted to do faster, easier and better.
By themselves, they are not exploitative, or advantageous, depending on what we use them for. But overall, I think we have a great opportunity on our hands. We have a powerful tool that can open the window within our culture and the world. I mean, growing up, I don’t think any Nigerian at the age of 50 has not been influenced heavily over the past couple of decades by a foreign culture.
It’s not bad in itself to be influenced by other cultures. It now depends on how you handle it versus how you sell it also to the other world. It’s supposed to be a mutually beneficial thing. We have that opportunity now.
TCL: Have you thought of contesting for a political office to realise change?
Frank Donga: I’m a social commentator. I use my tool to mirror society to itself from a creative point of view.
I think all creative people, especially comedians, have a unique position to tell very difficult and sensitive topics and get away with them.
Underneath that you embed some messages that would make the audience think critically. I have tried my part in nation-building through that path.
I’m not thinking of contesting for a political office at the moment. However, I’m not against leadership. All of us should be a leader in our little space.
Wearing Agbada and printing your posters everywhere doesn’t make you a leader. You become a leader when you’re socially responsible.
I’m not sure I’m going to run for any elected office soon, however, I would count it as an honour if I have the opportunity to explore the ideas I have for development.
TCL: What development do you think the Bola Tinubu government should bring into showbiz, particularly the film industry?
Frank Donga: There are some sectors that have done marvellously well without the lording over of government. I would just leave the entertainment sector like that and let it grow organically.
It wasn’t the government that brought the streaming platforms to Nigeria. Nigeria filmmakers through sweat and blood, used their personal money to make music, films, and skits. They borrowed money to make films. A lot of it was from private pockets.
There are technical ways the government can step in to make things faster and easier but I’m concerned that when they step into such spaces, things didn’t go the way people expected.
My advice would be to listen to people in the film industry, don’t force things on them or leave them. Don’t burden them with unnecessary taxes and approaches.
TCL: How do you deal with challenges as a creative?
Frank Donga: I have never been down before. The issue that has brought me down than I expected is the issue of the country. Sometimes I see the solution clearly and you’re wondering how did we get here.
I’m not prone to depression. I find humour in everything even in things that happen to me. Naturally, I’m a sarcastic person.
I believe God enables but I don’t put myself under unnecessary pressure. I do things that I naturally enjoy. I also don’t underestimate the power of prayer.
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